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On 23 September 1862, the Union Steamer Kensington, Schooner Rachel Seaman, and Mortar Schooner Henry James appeared off the bar at Sabine Pass. The next morning, the two schooners crossed the bar, took position, and began firing on the Confederate shore battery. The shots from both land and shore fall far short of their targets. The ships then moved nearer until their projectiles began to fall amongst the Confederate guns. The Confederate cannons, however, still could not hit the ships. After dark, the Confederates evacuated, taking as much property as possible and spiking the four guns left behind. On the morning of the 25th, the schooners moved up to the battery and destroyed it while Acting Master Frederick Crocker, commander of the expedition, received the surrender of the town. Union control of Sabine Pass made later incursions into the interior possible.
In September of 1863, the second battle of Sabine Pass occurred. It was a bit more significant than the earlier one. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks, USA, sent 4,000 soldiers by transport from New Orleans under the command of Gen. William B. Franklin to gain a foothold at Sabine Pass, where the Sabine River flows into the Gulf of Mexico. A railroad ran from Sabine Pass to Houston and opened the way into the interior of the state. The Western Gulf Blockading Squadron of the U. S. Navy sent four gunboats mounting 18 guns to protect the landing of the transport troops. The Union commander, Lt. Frederick Crocker, formed a plan for the gunboats to enter the pass and silence the Fort Griffin guns so the troops could land.
At Sabine Pass, the Davis Guards –– a Confederate Army unit composed of 45 enlisted men, one engineer, and one surgeon, all Irish and all in their 20s or younger, and led by 26 year old Lt. Richard Dowling –– manned Fort Griffin, which was constructed by 500 conscripted slaves. The fort consisted of an earthwork that mounted six cannons, two 24-pounders and four 32-pounders.
The U.S.S Clifton shelled the fort from long range between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. on September 8. The Confederates remained under cover because the ship was out of reach for their cannons. Behind the fort, Confederate officers gathered reinforcements, although their limited numbers would make resistance difficult if the federal troops landed.
At 3:40 p.m. the Union gunboats began their advance through the pass, firing on the fort as they steamed forward. Under the direction of Lt. Dowling, the Confederate cannoneers emerged to man their guns as the ships came within 1,200 yards. One cannon in the fort ran off its platform after an early shot, but the artillerymen fired the remaining five cannons with great accuracy. A shot from the third or fourth round hit the boiler of the U.S.S. Sachem, which exploded, killing and wounding many of the crew and leaving the gunboat without power in the channel. The following ship, the U.S.S. Arizona, could not pass the U.S.S. Sachem and withdrew from the action. The U.S.S. Clifton, which also carried several sharpshooters, continued up the channel near the Texas shore until a shot from the fort cut away its tiller rope. That left the gunboat without the ability to steer and caused it to run aground, where its crew continued to exchange fire with the Confederate gunners. Another well-aimed projectile into the boiler of the U.S.S. Clifton sent steam and smoke through the vessel and forced the sailors to abandon ship. The U.S.S. Granite City also turned back, thus ending the federal assault.
The Davis Guards fired their cannons 107 times in 35 minutes of action, a rate of less than two minutes per shot, which ranked as far more rapid than the standard for heavy artillery. The Confederates captured 350 Union prisoners and two gunboats. Gen. Franklin and the Union forces turned back to New Orleans, although Union troops occupied the Texas coast from Brownsville to Matagorda Bay later that fall. The Confederates, who suffered no casualties during the battle, received the gratitude of the Confederate Congress for their victory. Careful fortification, range marking and artillery practice had produced a successful defense of Sabine Pass.
Dick Dowling was born in Galway, Ireland in 1836. In an attempt to escape poverty, his family fled the country in 1846 for the U.S. and initially resided in New Orleans.
Dowling died in 1867 when he was only 30 years old from yellow fever; the same disease that took his parents. He is buried in St. Vincent’s Cemetery in Houston.
Although the site is best known for its role in the Civil War, it was also used as a U.S. Army coastal artillery battery during World War II.
There are two Fort Griffins in Texas. One was the fort established at Sabine Pass during the Civil War. The other Fort Griffin is located in Albany, Texas, and was constructed as one in a line of frontier defensive forts from 1867 to 1881. Both forts are Texas Historical Commission properties.
Sabine Pass Battleground was named one of the 10 most threatened American battlefields by the Civil War Preservation Trust in March 2009. The site was chosen due to its hurricane-prone location.
Admission is free.
Updated Sep 29, 2012
Address: 6100 Dick Dowling Rd., Port Arthur
The Woodworth House, or sometimes called Rose Hill Manor, was built for the mayor of Port Arthur in 1906. It is open for tours by appointment only Tuesday ~ Friday, 11am ~ 5pm, for $1.
Built to be the home of the Mayor, Mr. Woodworth, it is quite grandiose and elegant, a sign of the times and wealth of the family. The decorations span the decades that the home was occupied.
After the parents died, the daughter followed the instructions given to her and bequeathed it to the city in 1947. Since then, it has served as a meeting place for political and social groups as well as public events.
Written Nov 28, 2009
Address: 100 Woodworth Blvd, Port Arthur
Phone: (409) 985-7292
Port Arthur is a historical town, with a rich past. Those living the high life traditionally lived along the wide corridor along Lakeshore Drive.
Today, these homes are among the best maintained and aesthetic in the town. Several have historical markers along the sidewalks to give you an account of the construction, the owners and their social interactions with Port Arthur.
The picture here is of the Vuylsteke Home, built in 1905. Free tours can be made by calling the number below, on appointment only. The home to the first Dutch Counsel in Port Arthur is full of time period decorations.
Other places like the Pompeiian Villa (1953 Lakeshore Dr.) are open weekdays for tours (10am ~ 2pm) for $2. Tel (409) 983-5977. This home is a duplicate of an villa from Pompei dating from first century AD.
White Haven (2545 Lakeshore Dr.) is open for free tours by appointment only by calling (409) 984-6101.
Lakeshore is a relatively short street and can easily be walked the entire length.
Written Nov 28, 2009
Address: 1831 Lakeshore Dr, Port Arthur
Phone: (409) 984-6101
With the discovery of oil at Spindletop in 1901, Port Arthur and the surrounding communities were forever changed.
This historical marker, conveniently located next to one of the oldest continuously operating refineries, gives a succinct historical account of the development of industry in the area.
Originating in 1901, the JM Guffey Petroleum Company and local charters created the Gulf Refining Company in late 1901. This partnership eventually merged into the establishment of the Gulf Oil Company in 1907.
Gulf Oil dominated local markets with its production and advancements for decades. In 1984, it merged with Standard Oil (a.k.a. Chevron). In 1995, Clark Refinery took over the Port Arthur facility.
About another 1/2 mile down the road is another historical marker denoting the development of Tanker Shipments. In 1901, the first and largest shipment of the era was 3000 barrels aboard the "Atlas". Within one year, shipments had grown by over 600%.
Today, Texas Crude Oil alone stimulates the economy with over $3B annually.
Written Nov 28, 2009
Address: HW87 South, Port Arthur
This museum was a pleasant surprise. Very nice. Had a lot of info about the immediate area.
Also for Janis Joplin fans it had an exact replica of her mid-'60's VW bug, painteed up real wild like she must have had it done.
There's one spot where it has the High School yearbook. It's opened up to the letter 'J', right in the middle of the page is Janis Joplin's senior photo, and about 3 persons over is the senior photo of football coach Jimmy Johnson. So weird to see 2 great people like this on the same page in their yearbook.
Updated Dec 23, 2005
Address: 700 Procter
Phone: (409) 982-7000
The options in Port Arthur are extremely limited. Most all that you will find are fast food chains. However, Casa Ole is a decent enough Mexican sit-down restaurant. It might not be anything worthy of writing home about in other locations, but compared to Port Arthur's other dining establishments, it does the trick.
Favorite Dish: The 'wet' burritos are good, as well as the enchiladas.
Written Nov 19, 2009
Address: 4801 Twin City HW, Port Arthur
Texas has a long history, in which there have been many wars, against many foes. After gaining independence from Spain, Texas ultimately joined the Union. However, prior to the Civil War, Texas joined the Confederate States. On September 8, 1863, the little corner of Texas became a morale boosting focal point for the South. Lt Dowling and 46 men withstood and ultimately drove back an attempt by the U.S. Navy to invade Texas via the river with a fleet of four warships and 1200 men. What is left of Fort Griffin and Fort Manhassett is left as a monument to the events.
Today, it is a casual walk along paved paths. The site is a place for picnics and the boardwalk is popular for fishing.
Also from this point, if you look across the river and just to the south, you can see the old Sabine Pass Lighthouse (on the Louisiana side). The lighthouse is still standing, but was decommissioned by the US Coast Guard. The light mechanism and lenses are now on display inside the Gulf Coast Museum in downtown Port Arthur.
6100 Dick Dowling Rd.
Sabine Pass, TX 77640
To get there, go about 15 miles south of Port Arthur on HW87. When HW87 takes a right at the small stop sign in Sabine Pass, continue straight on Dowling Road / TX-3322 (south) about 1.5 miles.
Hours are 8 a.m.–5 p.m.
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years
Admission is listed as $2 dollars on some websites, but in actuality it is free.
Updated Nov 28, 2009
Phone: (409) 332-8820